A world-first real-time bushfire hazard detection and warning system using artificial intelligence (AI) is under development thanks to a new partnership between The University of Queensland and Google.org, Google’s philanthropic arm.
Led by UQ’s Professor Hamish McGowan, from the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, the project plans to use AI to trace the movement of embers and deliver real-time nowcasts of extreme bushfire hazards.
“The goal of our work is ultimately to save lives, property and the environment by providing increased accuracy in forecasting bushfire movements and alerting community members and emergency responders before they spread,” Professor McGowan said.
The $1.374 million grant from Google.org will enable UQ researchers to work on a new and robust capability to identify and forewarn locations up to 30 kilometres downwind from the fire front that may come under attack from embers – sometimes in areas previously perceived as safe.
In addition to philanthropic funding from Google.org, Google employees will have the opportunity to volunteer their time to help with this project.
Google Australia Engineering Site Lead Daniel Nadasi said UQ was charting new territory in bushfire detection.
“Google.org is thrilled to provide support to the UQ team to help tackle this important issue,” he said.
“The project will benefit Australia by identifying new AI solutions to detect bushfire activity – early on and in real-time – with a goal to safeguard at-risk communities, flora and fauna.
“Initiatives like this will help build a strong and more resilient digital future for Australia.”
It has been just over two years since Australia’s Black Summer bushfires burnt an estimated 186,000 square kilometres of land.
The impacts were devastating, with at least 33 people losing their lives, and fires destroying more than 6000 buildings, as well as killing or displacing an estimated three billion animals.
“We know that the effects of climate change are causing more extreme weather events including bushfires across the world and we are committed to helping find solutions that can lessen the impact,” Professor McGowan said.
The fallout of the 2019-20 bushfire season also saw smoke-related health costs climb to $1.95 billion.
There were 429 smoke-related premature deaths in addition to 3230 hospital admissions for cardiovascular and respiratory disorders and 1523 emergency attendances for asthma.
Image above left: Professor Hamish McGowan. Credit: David Kelly.